By: Alan Countess
Asymmetric Gaming Structure
Asymmetric game structure can take many forms. At its core, it involves giving players different abilities or rules, and often involves a different set of objectives that pits players against each other. Games like Overwatch and League of Legends are popular examples of games that revolve around characters with different abilities. These characters fit into specific roles and as a game is optimized at a high level, there becomes a standard ratio of roles present on each team. Outside of these examples where players have the same objective (destroy enemy team, capture a zone, destroy a base), asymmetric gaming can also give players on opposing sides distinct objectives. For instance, search and destroy is a common game mode in many first person shooters. In this setting, characters often have the same tools and abilities, but the game creates asymmetry through goals. One team must plant a bomb or destroy the other team while the other team must prevent the bomb from being planted, or diffuse it once it is planted. This structure forces players to act with unique strategies based on which side they are on.
Even outside of video games, asymmetric structure is often used to generate excitement. Games like mafia and werewolf are very popular group games, and in the board game realm, games like Betrayal at House on the Hill, Pandemic, and Scythe rely on asymmetries between players to create unique playing experience and various clashing strategies. Clearly there is something exciting about this type of game structure. With the recent rise in popularity of Among Us, we have seen how a simple game can capitalize off of the asymmetric structure of gaming to draw in players.
This brings us to Friday the 13th: The Game
Friday the 13th: The Game embodies many of the features asymmetric games can include. In this game, Jason is a playable character that is randomly selected out of the 8 players in the lobby. The remaining 7 will play as camp counselors on a team against Jason. The counselors can win by various means of escape, such as: escaping by boat, escaping by car, calling the police and reaching them once they arrive, and by waiting until the time limit of the game expires. The characters in this game win individually as they either escape or are killed whereas Jason’s objective is to kill as many counselors as possible. The game places tools around the map for the counselors to use. These tools can heal them, allow them to attack and stun Jason, or craft one of the means of escaping the camp.
In constructing these features, the game creates a completely different experience and style of play depending on the player’s role. Jason can interact with very few of the things players can interact with. He can not utilize or damage tools or travel through windows as the other players can. Furthermore, counselors are limited to inconveniencing Jason (it is possible to kill Jason but requires far more coordination and luck than you would expect to see in a game played by humans) while Jason has a very high chance of killing a target he is near through use of his abilities. These asymmetric elements make a large contribution to why people enjoy playing the game, but an even larger factor in this is the way the game capitalizes on fans’ nostalgia for the Friday the 13th movie series.
Friday the 13th as a tribute to the movie series
Much of the player base for this game are, unsurprisingly, fans of the Friday the 13th movie series. Fans who have watched these movies and enjoy horror movies in general enjoy reliving the movie through the game itself. Rather than recreating the plot of the movie, the game makes an attempt to create similar emotional elements that fans would experience when watching the filme. Being in the horror genre, a large focus of the movie series, and thus the game revolves around how fear is created. In the movies, there is a distinct soundtrack played when characters are in danger, or when the movie is meant to invoke fear. Often the music begins when Jason is nearby the counselors. The music adds to the rising suspense as characters are unaware of the mounting danger they are in. The game chooses to share the classic music track from the film series. Additionally, to create the same mounting suspense as the movies, players will hear the in game music become more dramatic and louder as Jason is closer to them. This is an interesting way for the game to produce the sensation that danger is close at hand without the character knowing where exactly Jason is and if he is even targeting them or another close by character.
In the following clip, you can hear the changes in music as the distance between Jason and my character changes. Additionally, you can see Jason use an ability to travel closer to my character without his movement being seen.
In addition to the use of music in this scene, we can see how the game recreates jump scares that appear in the movies. Jason is able to move very quickly off screen. His movement is not human and gives him a terrifying sense of power as he can always appear from just out of frame. The game recreates this by giving Jason the ability to teleport in a few ways. One way he can do this is to choose any location on the map, and instantly teleport to that location. Additionally, Jason is able to enter an invisible and very fast moving form in which Jason’s player moves in first person point of view. This camera effect is very similar to what is known in film as a killer point of view. The camera angle is directly from the perspective of the killer, you are unable to reverse, and you move towards victims without their knowledge of where you are. To avoid breaking the immersion of Jason literally disappearing from the players view when he uses this ability, the game produces a static effect on the screen for nearby players which has a similar effect to a character in a movie briefly looking away and losing track of Jason. These abilities to move in an inhuman manner around the map well replicates some of the fear tactics employed by the movies and gives characters a fun way to get a feeling for what it might feel like to move as Jason.
When players are moving around the map within the game, they spectate their character from a 3rd person point of view with the camera looking over the characters shoulder. This has a few interesting effects on how the player relates to their character compared to how they do in the movies. First person point of view and third person point of view are the two primary options when designing the camera angle for a game. First person point of view will give the player more of a sense that they are the character, as their view is identical to that of the character’s. Although the camera angle is not first person, this effect is still well achieved from the over the shoulder shot. In this situation, the character and the player have a very similar point of view. However, the third person shot also creates somewhat of a sensation that the player is a viewer, similar to how they would relate to a character in a movie. This choice helps recreate the movie feel of character association while creating a relationship with the character that is conducive to fear.
Some additional ways that the game indulges the nostalgia of fans of the series are through the customization options in the game. The game allows for characters to play as different versions of Jason. These versions match the appearance of various versions of Jason throughout the movie series. Additionally, the game allows players to customize the kill animations that Jason will use when they play as him. The player can choose some of their favorite kills from the movies, or simply pick ones they enjoy and use them when they get the role of Jason in a game.
In this final section, I would like to highlight some areas where I felt that the game diverged from the movie feel. One such way is that in the game, all of the counselors are immediately aware of the threat they face. While the movie plays on the information gap between the audience and the characters, the game is dealing with players who know Jason is hunting them. Because of this the game chose to introduce Jason with an initial cutscene that all of the players and characters see when the game starts. Although this is not true to the story in the films, I didn’t feel that this detracted from the gameplay experience. Additionally, chat is open with the random other players you are in the game with. This can lead to some fun banter, however, this can also lead to a much different atmosphere than the game tries to create. Through players and opponents not taking things seriously and joking around, the tension created within a game can quickly be cut. An additional way players can change the gaming experience are by playing poorly or being afk (away from keyboard). In these situations, a player purposefully killing teammates or not killing anyone as Jason can change what makes the players feel threatened when they play and lead to things such as music cues not creating fear as they are intended to.
In the following clip, you will see an example of some friendly banter that cuts the tension of the game followed by the player with the role of Jason being afk. You may notice how this contrasts with the earlier clip shown.
Thank you for your time and attention!